From November to April, Ao Nang sees the arrival of thousands of tourists attracted by the spectacular scenery, pristine beaches, and laid back atmosphere. Until the early 1980s, fishing and coconut and rubber plantations were the mainstay for the Muslim villagers at Ao Nang. Today the 1-mile (2-km) sandy beach sports a growing number of hotels, seafood restaurants, scuba diving outlets, and canoe tour companies. Visitors can rent a sea canoe to paddle in the turquoise waters in the shadow of the 330-ft (100-m) rocky eastern end of the bay. Nearby is uncrowded Pai Plong beach. In season, Ao Nang is a pleasant base for day trips by long-tail boat to the striking Railay-Phra Nang headland, 2 miles (3 km) to the southeast. Its sheer limestone cliffs, pure white sand, and emerald sea attract many visitors.
Hat Phra Nang, west of the Phra Nang headland, is the most attractive beach in the area. Rising above it is a high limestone cliff into which Tham Phra Nang Nok (“outer princess cave”) is carved. Inside is a shrine to the lost spirit of a princess, Phra Nang, whose ship allegedly sank near the beach in the 4th century BC. Today, local fishermen place offerings of incense, fruit, and water at the shrine to bring them a plentiful catch. Inside the cliff is Sa Phra Nang, a lagoon reached by a steep path.
Flanking Phra Nang are the white sand beaches of East and West Railay, the latter being much finer. There are boats from West Railay and Phra Nang beaches to Ko Poda, southwest of Phra Nang, where striped tiger fish can be fed by hand from the shallow shore, and Ko Hua Khwan, or Chicken Island, located farther south. Both islands offer excellent diving and snorkeling.
On Ko Hong, 16 miles (25 km) northwest of Ao Nang, the prized nests of the edible-nest swiftlet are collected from the island’s intricate network of caves.
The headquarters of the Phi Phi-Hat Nopparat Thara National Marine Park, to the west of Ao Nang, overlook stunning beaches. The park covers an area of 150 sq miles (390 sq km), which includes Ko Phi Phi , Ko Mai Phai, and Ko Yung (also known as Ko Mosquito).